The Inhumanity And Humanity Of Medicine

A passage through grief—the Western Australian Rural Pregnancy Loss Team

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 24 December 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:1705
  1. Simon Knowles
  1. King Edward Memorial Hospital, Subiaco, Western Australia 6008, Australia, perinatal pathologist and head of laboratory services.

    It's a dark wet chilly winter morning on the runway at Perth domestic airport. The Western Australian Rural Pregnancy Loss Team clambers into one of those small planes with odd rows of seats, two on the right and one on the left of the aisle. Makes you wonder why they don't fly lopsided; right wing down a bit. I don't really have that much attention to devote to aerodynamic theory because I've got a complete set of fingernails digging into my upper arm: Helen, a founder member of the roadshow, past president of the Western Australia chapter of SANDS— Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Support; a speech pathologist by trade. She has a serious fear of flying and the plane will soon echo to the combined sounds of turboprops and Helen, screaming in concert. The others in the team are Robert, Sue, and Elena. We are taking the roadshow to a country town in Western Australia. The plane speeds, relatively, down the runway. Helen, some speechie, utters inarticulate but irreverent comments at the top of her voice and tonal range. Robert, a hospital chaplain in civvies, indicates through sign language that she's certainly not with him. Not for the first time, I wonder what on earth we are doing.

    According to our application to Healthways, the Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation, what we are doing is “diminishing the morbidity associated with miscarriage, stillbirth, and perinatal loss in rural Western Australia by promoting local support groups and transferring appropriate skills, attitudes, and knowledge to local caregivers.” According to Helen, what we are doing is exposing ourselves to serious physical danger in the air and to the risk of cirrhosis, or worse, on the ground.

    The situation

    Anyone who has experienced it knows that the death of a baby before, during, or shortly after birth …

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